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The Ascension (Part 1 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
April 12, 2021 4:00 am

The Ascension (Part 1 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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April 12, 2021 4:00 am

The Gospel story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death and resurrection. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg teaches that without Christ’s ascension into heaven, His redeeming work would've been incomplete. Find out where Jesus is and what He’s doing now.


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Most of us as Christians understand that Jesus' death is not the end of the Gospel story, but many people think it does stop with his resurrection. Luke's Gospel tells us there's more. Without Christ's ascension to heaven, his story and our lives would be incomplete. So where is Jesus now and what's he doing?

Alistair Begg addresses these questions today on Truth for Life. Father, thank you for the privilege of giving our voices as part of the great cacophony of praise which ascends to you this day from nations and languages all around the world and from the angelic throng around your throne in heaven. And we pray that as we have sought your help in singing, we seek your help in studying, and ask that your blessing may attend our meditation upon your Word. For we pray in Christ's name.

Amen. Luke chapter 24 and verse 50, when he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. If you're using an NIV, you will see that above verse 50 there are just two words, namely the ascension. The ascension, the departure of Christ into heaven, is arguably the least considered aspect of the work of Christ. The average person in the street will know something about the birth of Jesus, if they know anything at all. They will probably, and certainly this week, know something about the death of Jesus.

But if you were to ask them where Jesus presently is or what he is currently doing, they probably would be at sea. And Luke ends his Gospel with the story of the ascension, and he begins his second volume—namely, the Book of Acts—also with a description, a more detailed description, of the ascension. A moment's thought will make clear that without the ascension, the story is incomplete.

With an incomplete story, we will focus on the wrong things and get it dreadfully wrong. The hymn writers help us. When, for example, we sing the words, post-Easter, the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now, and a royal diadem adorns the mighty victor's brow, so that our focus at our preoccupation is not with a bloodied and distressed Christ, but our focus in preoccupation is with a kingly Christ, a reigning Christ, one who is now at his Father's side. In the words with which we will end our worship this morning, we will remind ourselves before leaving we have a priest who's there interceding, pouring his grace on our lives day by day. Therefore, we have a most necessary reminder in these closing verses of where Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. And I'll suggest to you—and I hope I'm able to make it clear to you as we study the text—that this may well be the necessary corrective for some of us who have been looking in other places to find an antidote to our dispiritedness, perhaps to our defeat, to our ongoing sense of failure, or to an abject sense of discouragement—the necessity of being reminded of the fact that Jesus is an ascended king. Now, with three words, we will trace a line through the text.

The first word is transition, the second word is ascension, and the third word is reaction. The transition to which I'm referring is identified for us in the opening verses of Acts, where Luke tells us that Jesus, over a period of almost seven weeks, made appearances before his followers and taught them concerning the kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus did not simply rise from the dead and go directly to heaven. I suppose it would have been possible for him to do so.

We might have imagined that there were very good reasons for doing so. After all, the work of redemption is completed. What else is there for him to do? He has made a full atonement, and he has been raised in triumph over death. Therefore, why not just go directly to the Father? Well, this transition is an indication of what a wonderfully gracious friend and Savior Jesus is. Because he takes time over forty days to move amongst his followers. And in appearing to them, he answers their questions. He helps to banish their fears.

He teaches them all that they need to know. And as we saw last time, in verse 46 and 47—actually, verse 45—he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures, and he prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And then—and only then—did he leave. And I say to you again, it is a mark of his grace and his kindness that he stayed around, if you like, in order to provide in this transitional period the kind of encouragement that his followers so desperately needed. And surely, when they reflected on it in later years, when the time came for them to write down much of this material, they must have been glad of the transition. How glad Thomas—doubting Thomas—must have been that Jesus had not left directly. Had he done so, Thomas would have been unable to address his doubts, to meet his Savior, to place his doubting hands into the nail prints of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and have his questions answered and his fears allayed.

Surely, Peter, in all of his discouragement and in his disgrace, was equally glad of the transition. He had made such a royal hash of things. No, I don't know the man. No, I never met the man. No, I may sound like the man.

My accent may be similar, but no, I have no clue what you're talking about. And then his eyes, meeting the eyes of Jesus, and then him going out into the night and weeping bitterly, eventually telling his followers, I think I'm going back fishing. How glad he was for the transition!

Jesus comes and meets him on the shore and makes breakfast and gives him the opportunity to reinstate himself with a threefold affirmation of his love for Christ and hear Jesus say, Now go ahead, Peter, and do what I've asked you to do. And don't you think the mother of Jesus was glad for the transition? For she had stood with others at that scene and witnessed the sorry spectacle, the brutality that was meted out upon her son, her boy. How glad she must have been! And if, in giving voice to the Magnificat, she did so in anticipation of all that this son would mean to her, surely she was able to sing the Magnificat at this point in a way that she'd never done before.

You know what I'm referring to, don't you? My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

Yes, he had. He comes from the cross, and he says, disciple your mother, mother your son, caring for his mother in that moment. But that was not the closing scene. And now she, along with the others, is going to enjoy the journey back to Jerusalem—a joyful journey. Because the story doesn't end with a distressed Christ. It doesn't end with a crucified Christ. Nor does it even end with a resurrected Christ. But it ends with an ascended Christ.

He is Lord, and he is King. And I know many of you come from a background where this is difficult for you to hear, but if you want a picture of the Virgin Mary, have a dancing one. For her end, her conclusion, was not in the pieta, there with her son in all of his bloody distress, but her end was with a company of the pilgrims going back to Jerusalem, rejoicing in the fact that her son, who had been so dreadfully abused, was none other than the ascended Lord and King. And that's how she ended her life. She did not end her life with the preoccupations that are customarily suggested to us.

Those were real. We mitigate them in no sense. But I say again to you, the Scriptures do not encourage us to end with a bloody, distressed, and fearful Christ, a crucified, hanging Christ, or even a resurrected Christ. But in the most neglected aspect of the work of Christ, they encourage us to focus on the fact that he is an ascended Christ. That's why we've just sung what we sang.

I'm not sure that we all paid attention to it. Jesus, hail! Worship Jesus, enthroned in glory. That's where he is. There, forever to abide. That's his dwelling place.

He's coming back momentarily to add to the number of those joining him, but that's where he lives now. And all the heavenly hosts adore you, seated at your Father's side. What are you doing there, Jesus?

There for sinners you are pleading, and our place you now prepare. How he's doing that I don't know. Presumably using helpers. Now, I know this girl. She likes moths. I would like her room to look just like this. And this chap who's coming, he likes a kind of outdoor-indoor architecture.

He likes to be able to sit out in the evenings. Let's get his place just wonderfully the way he anticipates it. And our place you now prepare. And always for us interceding, till in glory we appear.

You see, these words give a necessary corrective to the fact that we've lost Jesus along the journey. Where is he? He's at the Father's right hand. What is he doing? Preparing our place.

Pleading our case. That's the first-word transition. The second word is ascension. While, verse 51, he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. The Lord Jesus had lived perfectly, fulfilling the law. He'd fulfilled the will of the Father completely. He had accomplished the work of atonement. He had risen in triumph. And so I can imagine—and I say so reverently—that when here in verse 50 he takes the followers with him out to familiar territory for Bethany and the foothills of the Mount of Olives, the slopes of the Mount of Olives, was a certainly familiar place. It was the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary. They went there with frequency.

It was here that they had gathered on a number of occasions. And as he takes them out, he must essentially turn to them and say, Well, that's it. There's nothing more for me to do.

I've done it all. That pretty well wraps it up. And I'm outta here. You say, Well, Jesus wouldn't say, I'm outta here. No, but he would say something like that in Aramaic.

I mean, do you think he said, I am now departing? You know, no, they were his friends. He spoke to them. They spoke like normal people. They were normal people. Fellas, you've watched me, you've listened to me, you've followed me, I've died for you, I've risen for you, and now I'm leaving.

I'm leaving now. Now, his followers would not have been completely blindsided by this, because he had actually told them in Luke chapter 9—you may want just to look at this to refresh your memory—in Luke chapter 9, in the record of the transfiguration. Remember, Jesus took Peter and James and John with him, and he went up to a mountain to pray. And in the context of that verse 30, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, and they were talking with Jesus.

And what did they talk about? Well, they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. He was about to bring his departure to fulfillment.

It's an interesting expression, isn't it? In other words, it's almost as if the whole thing was about his departure—that his whole journey was a prolonged departure, that he had left the glory of heaven, that he had come to earth, he'd been born as a baby, he had lived as a man, he'd died as Savior, and the whole thing was working towards his departure. In fact, the word is exodus. He spoke about his exodus. Moses also was able to speak about an exodus.

He had been able to. They presumably compared exoduses with one another, you know. And Moses said, Well, you remember my exodus?

I brought the people out of Egypt, liberated them from the bondage of Egypt. Yes, Jesus said, That was wonderful. And in my exodus, I'm going to lead my people out from the bondage of sin. And in verse 51, Luke follows up with this notion, and he describes the timeline in relationship to his ascension. Luke 9.51, as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.

Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. It doesn't say, as the time approached for him to die—although it may well have said that, and it says that in other places. But in this context, Luke says, as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven. That's ultimately what he's doing. He is going back to the Father and to glory.

Everything else will take place in process until then. And in John chapter 20, when Mary Magdalene meets Jesus in the garden, post-resurrection, and falls at his feet and grabs him, Jesus, you remember, says, Mary, don't hang on to me like that. I have not yet ascended to my Father. I'm not staying here.

I'm in a transition at the moment, but I am moving forward. Now, the verbs were helpful to me in just setting the picture clearly in my mind. Verse 50, the verb to lead. And when he had led them out, the whole story of their journey had been about Jesus, their leader. He had come to them and said, Follow me. And they had begun to follow him. And here at the very end of it all, they're still following, he sets out before them. He is in every sense their leader. He is their forerunner.

He is the firstfruits of those who fall asleep. And he leads them out—out to a location where, only a matter of a few weeks ago, he had dispatched a couple of them to go and get a donkey for him to ride on. You remember that in the triumphal entry? If you go back to Luke chapter 19, right around verse 28 or so, you will discover that once again they're in Bethany, and they're about to begin another journey. And he leads them. Peter and John and James and Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James and the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers and all the rest of them, he leads them out. And then we're told, He lifted up his hands. He leads them out.

He lifts his hands. They would understand this gesture in a way that most of us do not. Whether they understood it in terms of the Aaronic priestly blessing—the Lord bless you and keep you, as we often will say, from numbers—or whether they thought of it in terms of Moses' departure or the departure of Jacob in Genesis 49, where you remember in there he blesses all of the sons of Israel.

It was customary for someone of stature and significance not simply to walk out the door and walk away but to extend blessing upon those who were in his custody and under his care. And it surely was very meaningful to them that their final view of their beloved Master is a picture of him with his hands raised in blessing upon them. You see, there's another reason that, without the transition, that would not have been the final view. It wouldn't have been the final view for Mary. It wouldn't have been the final view for Peter.

It wouldn't have been the final view for Thomas. What a gracious Savior! What a wonderful Lord we have! That he loves to lift his hands up in blessing upon his own. He says, I bless you with my love and with my life and with my power and with my will.

You will remember, won't you, from our studies in Joseph, that the way we say hello and the way we say goodbye really matters. And if it matters on a superficial level in terms of our interpersonal relationships, it should be no surprise that it really mattered to Jesus that it wasn't just a passing gesture—"Hey, guys, I'll see you"—but rather, when he said, I'm out of here, I'm leaving, I'm going, he didn't just walk away, he stood with his hands raised in blessing. And you will notice he leads them out, he lifts his hands, and then he leaves them. Luke tells us with an eye for detail that while he was still blessing them, he left.

So their very final picture of him, his posture before them, is this wonderful picture. God loves to bless us, you know. Jesus loves to bless us. Jesus is far more willing to bless us than we are to even take the time to ask him to bless us. He loves to do so. Is that the picture you have of Christ? With his hands raised in blessing on your life? You may.

You should. Now, isn't it wonderful that he leaves in such a decisive and defining way? If the appearances of Jesus had just grown fewer and fewer and then petered out, nobody would have really known what was going on. You know, if they said to one another, Well, it's a week since he was here. Do you think he'll come back again? Well, two weeks ago he did that.

He said, I wonder if he will do that this week. If it had all just been going away from them, dissipating, they wouldn't have known. And so Jesus very decisively and very wonderfully leaves them in no doubt that he is at the end. He's at the end, he's at the beginning. It is the end of the beginning, it's the beginning of the end. It's the end of all that Jesus has begun to do and teach, as Luke says in his second volume. Now the responsibility of teaching, now the responsibility of proclaiming the kingdom of God, is going to fall to his followers as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. It's now over to them to take the news of repentance and faith to all the nations, and they're to begin this evangelism program, as we saw last time beginning in Jerusalem. But he wants his disciples to understand they will no longer be able to see him and talk with him as before, and they're about to discover that what he had told them previously about how good this was going to be, that he was true in what he said. Remember, he said in John 16, I'm going to go away from you, and when I go, the Father will send the counselor, the comforter, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit will come, and he will abide with you forever.

And that's essentially it. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. There you have the ascension, in a sentence. And I say to you again that it is an ongoing matter of wonder to me that at the most pivotal points in Christianity, the Scriptures are so cryptic.

There is no elaboration. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. We're in a series called The Gospel According to Luke. And our message today affirms that Jesus is the ascended King. He died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. This is the truth that is at the heart of the gospel, and having certainty about his resurrection is fundamental to all that we believe. That's why we're recommending a book called Alive, How the Resurrection of Christ Changes Everything. The author of this book presents a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding the account of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. He looks carefully at both the historical and biblical proof. When you read the book Alive, you'll gain more confidence about all that's written in the gospel record. And if you're already a follower of Jesus but have a skeptical friend, the book Alive will give you great help explaining the conviction you have that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.

You can draw from all the extensive proof in the book to encourage others to consider the claims of Christianity. Request your copy of the book Alive when you give to support the Bible teaching you hear on this program. Visit us online at slash donate, click the image in the app, or call us at 888-588-7884.

When you donate, your giving makes it possible for all of Alistair's teaching to be heard through a wide variety of channels. And to give you an additional option for listening to Truth for Life, you can now hear Truth for Life on your Apple Watch. If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, just open the podcast app on your phone, search for Truth for Life programs and subscribe. Find out more by going to slash Apple Watch. I'm Bob Lapeen, thanks for joining us. Alistair continues today's message tomorrow by examining the disciples' response to Jesus' Ascension. How is their reaction an example for our lives today? Find out as you listen tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-02 22:06:06 / 2023-12-02 22:15:02 / 9

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